cover image What Is a Wise Bird Like You Doing in a Silly Tale Like This?

What Is a Wise Bird Like You Doing in a Silly Tale Like This?

Uri Shulevitz. Farrar Straus Giroux, $16 (40pp) ISBN 978-0-374-38300-8

In this engaging bit of frippery, Shulevitz takes a walk on the nonsensical side, concocting a tall tale about the inhabitants of Pickleberry. The Emperor and his twin brother, the janitor, share the kingdom with 26 and a half citizens (""The half was an invisible fellow with a big mustache whom everyone knew and who spoke in half words"") and a talking bird named Lou (""a genius of a bird""). Fed exotic delicacies such as ""caramel crisp with tamatar, badam, shalgam, zafran, mari, curry, and adrak,"" Lou is treated better than the Emperor's brother, who is eventually made ""part-time ambassador for extraordinary missions"" and sent shopping in a faraway land. He runs into Lou's Aunt Millie, who helps Lou escape, triggering a series of events that winds up with a tale-within-a-tale as Lou regales his aunt with the story of how the janitor got the best of his greedy brother. The silliness referenced in the title reigns supreme here; with a nod to Lear, the author squeezes pleasure out of invented words and tongue twisters, often with a visual twist (such as images of the half-citizen throwing down his half cup's invisible saucer and causing an earthquake). Shulevitz's sunny watercolors range from beautifully detailed vignettes to puckish cartoons (including a picture of the ""National Dessert--Pickle Pudding"" on the endpapers), ratcheting up the enjoyment factor. Ages 4-up. (Sept.)